In Arab societies, the rational individual aspires to separate religion from politics hoping to repeat the experience of secularization in these societies. But when we look closer into this subject, we find that it is more becoming of us to ask for the total and unconditional separation of religion from thought before its separation from politics. We all strive towards knowledge to discover new horizons leading to individual and collective good. Here I think comes the importance of relying on a thought open to change, not based on firm foundations that cannot be refuted. Our endorsement of immutable principles goes against changes which continuously affect our spatial surrounding and the temporal context within which we live.
Let us in the beginning revisit the concept of knowledge. Most times this concept is so confused to the point that its basic meaning is lost. There is no doubt that knowledge lies on a foundation made of available information. As expert in neurology Naccache explains: “knowledge is the narrative of the I.” Each time we seek to discover what we don’t know or looks for a wider understanding of information to transform it into an intellectual concept, we have to put all our beliefs and concepts on one side to revise them. With each journey of discovery, we have to strip ourselves of the dictates of the “I” grounded in beliefs and doctrines accumulating in our memory to form a tyrannical and oppressive barrier reminiscent of the Berlin Wall. That is why we have to emancipate ourselves from anything which can hamper our journey towards knowledge. This can be possible only when we challenge the structure of the “I” by accepting different ideas and when we adopt a way of thinking based on a continuous double act of destruction and construction.
When we try to define the constitution of the “I” we find it based on doctrines acquired from collective culture. This is what we call a collective receptacle because it maintains each individual underneath layers of inherited beliefs, visions and notions. The wider cultural container interferes and overlaps with a smaller container made of things learned and acquired in our family and educational environment. Added to that the overlap of this composite external container with the biological constitution of each individual. The external surrounding has a great effect on the emergence of specific genes. When we strive towards a wider understanding of facts outside these diverse containers, we have distance and detach ourselves from this “I” and disentangle ourselves from its accumulating layers.
There are those who argue for the ethical necessity to maintain religion as the ultimate judge of thought and would bestow on it aspects which exceed all universal extents. They would start first with the exposition of the greatness of religious wisdom and its non-human ascendency in the concept of knowledge to conclude this traditional discourse on the necessity of restraining individuals and confining them within a collective melting pot, then they would carry on with a reprimanding hymn that would not end till after our death and since we are asking for the necessity of respecting the other’s point of view to understand where he comes from, we are compelled to listen to garbled and ingurgitated ideas full of literary chants and moral gems lacking novelty and out of tune with our modern time.
Let us take a look at the conceptual foundations of this religion. It is based on psychological activity which enflames contradictory feelings such as fear and tranquility, terror and security… besides, we find religions devoid of discoveries. The fossilization of religion into divine Texts, explains how and why religious discourse closed in upon itself and upon the lexicon and expressions which govern its meanings. It became its own prisoner, unable to move, characterized by immutable features. For that reason it became unreliable to discover what moves our desire to know things. The relinquishing of discovery is the abandonment of knowledge as such, for knowledge is the result of exploration, and discovery is the sum of various analyses and interpretations of different observations and ideas derived from the surrounding external reality. From this sum are constituted premises used to rebuild theories which need to be supported by examples to prove and test them at a later stage. For that reason we need to question the practicality of founding provisional knowledge on immutable foundations, that is, the practicality of building science on religious foundations. Here is where the problem resides. The mutable and the provisional needs flexible principles and foundations which can be cancelled and revised. This is why religion is outside the arena of knowledge and thought altogether. It is for this reason that I find the voices asking for the separation between religion and knowledge essential to maintain an autonomous sphere where creativity and invention can thrive. This act of separation also prepares for us a social atmosphere conducive to the positive exchange of ideas.
Many philosophers have presented different explanations to the condition of thought such as Hume who considered the relation between knowledge and sensory impressions. Such knowledge cannot be precise and neither is it innate because it depends on individual sensory perception and experience gradually reinforced through repetition and other pragmatic methods.
The science of biology has given us today a sounder explanation than the one proposed by philosophers at that time. Neither should we forget the effect of psychoanalysis and its reliance on experimental neurology to understand the structure and functions of the nervous system. It has given us a wider opportunity to avoid mistakes, to be less liable to them and more capable of avoiding them. When individuals or groups embrace immutable principles which make them unable to learn, this attitude destroys the possibility of expanding the neural activities of the brain achieved through learning. It is for this reason that the individual closed upon his/ her concepts find it difficult to accept challenging ideas and events. This leads to an intellectual retardation. The individual is stuck in a static intellectual condition, unable to live in his/ her time and face up to changes which happen within it. The richness of thought is not possible without an enriching experience of difference and without a collective intellectual interaction. That is why we feel it is our right to ask for religion to be returned to its original place, that is to feelings
There is no doubt that each one of us differs in his/ her perception of things and the external reality because perception itself is built on mental visualizations based on convictions and explanations summed up in the “I”. We have to strife continuously towards reconsidering the data located in this building. This is possible only through criticism and the continuous attempts to be open to ideas different from ours and to admit to our liability to error and the ever limited and inconclusive nature of our achieved awareness and knowledge. For error and awareness are intertwined, they reflect the totality of attempts seeking to reach a wider consciousness of all that is external to us.